Posts Tagged ‘OLED TV’

LG Is “All In” With OLED TVs

Yesterday (April 8), LG formally launched its new line of OLED televisions at The Garage on Manhattan’s upper west side. In addition to showcasing the 65-inch 65EG9600 ($8,999) and 55-inch 55EG9600 ($5,499) UHDTVs, LG also held a press briefing in conjunction with Netflix’ latest streaming series, Daredevil, which is available starting Friday, April 10.

I had the opportunity to sit on this panel and answer a few technical questions about OLED picture quality. Scott Mirer, VP of device ecosystem at Netflix was also on hand to offer his observations about the new OLED TVs, as was Matt Lloyd, director of photography for Daredevil (which, coincidentally, was shot in the adjoining Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood).

During my part of the discussion, I asked for a show of hands to see how many members of the press were currently using plasma TVs, and better than 60% of the hands went up. While LCD display technology current owns about 95% of the worldwide television market, there’s just no comparison to a late-model Panasonic, LG, Pioneer, or LG plasma set when it comes to video picture quality.

The panel discussion at LG's OLED TV launch event. Left to right, yours truly, Tim Alessi of LG Electronics, Matt Lloyd, DP on Daredevil, Scott Mirer of Netflix, and moderator Shelly Palmer.

The panel discussion at LG’s OLED TV launch event. Left to right; yours truly, Tim Alessi of LG Electronics, Matt Lloyd, DP on Daredevil, Scott Mirer of Netflix, and moderator Shelly Palmer.

Many of us shed more than a tear when it was announced that Panasonic was departing from the plasma TV business a couple of years ago. And we all figured that OLED (organic light-emitting diode) televisions would quickly step into the breach.

That didn’t quite happen like we expected. Even through large OLED TVs have been shown for well over a decade (going back to Samsung’s and Epson’s 40-inch prototypes in 2003), they just never seemed to make it to the starting line.

In the summer of 2013, LG launched a 55-inch curved 1080p OLED TV with much splash and hoopla. Later that year, Samsung followed suit with their 55-inch curved OLED TV, pricing theirs almost $6,000 less than LG. And in short order, a price war ensued – but it didn’t last very long, as Samsung pulled their product off the market for undisclosed reasons.

LG’s OLED imaging panels employ a white OLED emitter and color filters arrayed in an RGBW stripe to provide brighter images. This technology originated in none other than Rochester, NY at Eastman Kodak and was an outgrowth of research and development in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 2009, Kodak sold its OLED patent portfolios and business to LG Electronics outright. Ever since then, LG has been working industriously to bring OLED TVs to market. The ‘catch’ was manufacturing yields, which not all that long ago were in the low double digits.

Although subsidiary LG Display won’t disclose its current OLED yields, they are believed to be better than 50%, which is probably why we’re now seeing several models of televisions finally coming to retail. Granted; they’re not cheap – in comparison, you can by a 55-inch “smart” 1080p LCD TV for about $700 now, while a quantum dot-equipped 1080p LCD set will run about $3,000 currently.

However, the market knows what it wants to pay for a television, and you can expect those prices to come down in short order. LG’s original 55EA9800 OLED set started out at just under $15,000, but it can be yours now for just one-fifth of that original price. (For those with short memories, that’s what a quality 50-inch plasma cost about 7-8 years ago.)

The OLED exhibit featured this comparison between a 55-inch LCD with LED backlight (left), a 55-inch oLED TV (middle), and a 55-inch LCD TV equipped with quantum dot backlight (right.)

The OLED exhibit featured this comparison between a 55-inch LCD with LED backlight (left), a 55-inch oLED TV (middle), and a 55-inch LCD TV equipped with quantum dot backlight (right.)

While the rich blacks and saturated colors draw people like flies to OLEDs, it’s worth nothing that those same deep blacks and consistent grayscale and color reproduction at very low luminance levels allow OLED displays to show images with high dynamic range. If we go by an industry definition of HDR as 15 stops of light, OLED is definitely up to the challenge: With full white at 500 nits, for example, the step above black would measure just around .1 nits.

That’s a level of black previously attained only by plasma TVs, as well as LCD TVs with some trickery involved (black stretch, dynamic contrast, APL). But of course OLEDs can go much lower with grayscale reproduction: A more typical low gray (near black) level on an OLED display might be around .05 nits or so.

The clips of Daredevil provided by Netflix really showed off the abilities of OLEDs to handle dark scenes with point sources of high-key light, like streetlights. Another clip showed a fight scene in a dark hallway, with the only light coming from green-tinted fluorescent lamps. Yet, you could see details even in the darkest corners.

The consistent color tracking of OLEDs, their emissive structure, and their low operating voltages make them an ideal replacement – nay, step-up – from plasma display technology, which had to rely on high voltage, pulse-width modulation (PWM) technology to create images. OLEDs are also a lot thinner than any other display, and can even by printed onto flexible substrates.

But enough about technology! OLED televisions are finally coming to market, and that’s something to celebrate. As a bonus, both of LG’s newest OLED models are UHDTV-resolution (3840×2160 pixels) and have excellent 1080p upscaling, based on the Blu-ray clips of Skyfall that I saw at the event. Can’t wait for the rest of the lineup!

CES 2014 In The Rear-View Mirror

Once again, CES has come and gone. It sneaks up on us right after a relaxing Christmas / New Year holiday. We’re jolted out of a quiet reverie and it’s back to the rush to board at the airport gate, walking the serpentine lines for taxis at McCarran Airport, and “late to bed, early to rise” as we scramble to make our booth and off-site appointments in Las Vegas.

We don’t make them all on time. Some we miss completely. But there’s a serendipity angle to it all: We might find, in our haste to get from one meeting to another, some amazing new gadget we didn’t know about as we take shortcuts through booths in the North, South, and Central Halls.

Or a colleague sends us a text or leaves a voicemail, emphatically stating “you have to see this!” Or a chance meeting leads to an ad hoc meeting, often off-site or over a hasty lunch in the convention center.

My point is this: You “find” as many cool things at the show as you “lose.” For every must-see product that you don’t see, there’s another one you trip over. Granted; many “must-see” products are yawners – you’ve figured it out 30 seconds into your carefully-staged meeting with PR people and company executives, and you’re getting fidgety.

LS Samsung Booth MCU 600p

My best CES discoveries involve products or demos where I can observe them anonymously, without PR folks hovering at my side or staring at my badge before they pounce like hungry mountain lions.

Unlike most of my colleagues in the consumer electronics press, I don’t need to break stories the instant I hear about them. There are already too many people doing that. What’s missing is the filter of analysis – some time spent to digest the significance of a press release, product demo, or concept demo.

And that’s what I enjoy the most: Waiting a few days – or even a week – after the show to think about what I saw and ultimately explain the significance of it all. What follows is my analysis of the 2014 International CES (as we are instructed to call it) and which products and demos I thought had real significance, as opposed to those which served no apparent purpose beyond generating daily headlines and “buzz.”

Curved TV screens: OK, I had to start with this one, since every TV manufacturer at the show (save Panasonic and Toshiba) exhibited one or more curved-screen OLED and LCD televisions. Is there something to the curved-screen concept? On first blush, you’d think so, given all of the PR hype that accompanied these products.

The truth is; really big TV screens do benefit a little from a curved surface, particularly if they are UHDTV models and you are sitting close to them. The effect is not unlike Cinerama movie screens from the 1950s and 1960s. (That’s how I saw Dr. Zhivago and 2001: A Space Odyssey back in the day.)

Toshiba described their version of the 21:9 widescreen LCD TV as having

Toshiba described their version of the 21:9 widescreen LCD TV as having “5K” resolution – and mathematically, it does (I guess!).

This wall of 56-inch curved OLEDs greeted visitors to the Panasonic booth.

This wall of 56-inch curved OLEDs greeted visitors to the Panasonic booth.

Bear in mind I’m talking about BIG screens here – in the range of 80 inches and up. The super-widescreen (21:9 aspect ratio) LCD TVs shown by Samsung, LG, and Toshiba used the curve to great effect. But conventional 16:9 TVs didn’t seem to benefit as much, especially in side-by-side demos.

The facts show that worldwide TV shipments and sales have declined for two straight years, except in China where they grew by double digits each year. TV prices are also collapsing – you can buy a first-tier 55-inch “smart” 1080p LCD TV now for $600, and 60-inch “smart” sets are well under $800 – so manufacturers will try anything to stimulate sales.

Is that the reason why we’re seeing so many UHDTV (4K) TVs all of a sudden? Partially. Unfortunately, there’s just no money in manufacturing and selling 2K TVs anymore (ask the Japanese manufacturers how that’s been working for them), and the incremental cost to crank out 4K LCD panels isn’t that much.

Chinese panel and TV manufacturers have already figured this out and are shifting production to 4K in large panels while simultaneously dropping prices. You can already buy a 50-inch 4K LCD TV from TCL for $999. Vizio, who is a contract buyer much like Apple, announced at the show that they’d have a 55-inch 4K LCD TV for $1299 and a 65-inch model for well under $2,000.

Hisense is building a factory in the U.S. to assemble TVs. And you wondered if they were serious about the North American TV business?

Hisense is building a factory in the U.S. to assemble TVs. And you wondered if they were serious about the North American TV business?

Vizio's 65-inch high dynamic range (HDR) 4K TV was very impressive.

Vizio’s 65-inch high dynamic range (HDR) 4K TV was very impressive.

Consider that the going price for a 55-inch 4K “smart” LCD TV from Samsung, LG, and Sony is sitting at $2,999 as of this writing and you can see where the industry is heading. My prediction is that all LCD TV screens 60 inches or larger will use 4K panels exclusively within three years. (4K scaling engines work much better than you might think!)

And don’t make the popular mistake of conflating 4K with 3D as ‘failed’ technologies. The latter was basically doomed from the start: Who wants to wear glasses to watch television? Not many people I know. Unfortunately, glasses-free (autostereo) TV is still not ready for prime time, so 3D (for now) is basically a freebie add-on to certain models of televisions.

4K, on the other hand, has legs. And those legs will get stronger and faster as the new High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) chips start showing up in televisions and video encoders. HEVC, or H.265 encoding, can cut the required bit rate for 2K content delivery in half. That means it can also deliver 4K at the old 2K rates, somewhere in the ballpark of 10 – 20 Mb/s.

Toshiba (like many others) is moving quickly to adopt and integrate HEVC H.265  encoding and decoding into their products.

Toshiba (like many others) is moving quickly to adopt and integrate HEVC H.265 encoding and decoding into their products.

Nanotech's Nuvola 4K media player costs only $300 and delivers the goods.

Nanotech’s Nuvola 4K media player costs only $300 and delivers the goods.

While consumer demand for 4K is slowly ramping up, there is plenty of interest in UHDTV from the commercial AV sector. And Panasonic focused in on that sector almost exclusively in their CES booth. I’m not sure why – there are plenty of inferences here; most significantly, it would appear that Panasonic is exiting the money-losing television business entirely. (Ditto nearby Toshiba, which had similar 4K “applications” showcased and which also did not exhibit a line of 2014 televisions.)

Long story short; you may be buying 4K televisions in the near future whether you want ‘em or not. It’s a manufacturing and plant utilization issue, and if commercial demand for 4K picks up as expected, that will drive the changeover even faster.

As for sources of 4K content; Samsung announced a partnership with Paramount and Fox to get it into the home via the M-Go platform. Comcast had an Xfinity demo for connected set-top-boxes to stream 4K, and of course Netflix plans to roll out 4K delivery this year direct to subscribers.

I’m not sure how they’ll pull that off. My broadband speeds vary widely, depending on time of day: I’m writing this at noontime and according to CNET’s Broadband Speed Test, my downstream bit rate is about 22 megabits per second (Mb/s). Yet, I’ve seen that drop to as low as 2 – 3 Mb/s during late evening hours, when many neighbors are no doubt streaming Netflix movies.

Even so, HEVC will definitely help that problem. I spoke to a couple of Comcast folks on my flights out to and back from CES, and they’re all focused on the bandwidth and bit rate challenges of 2K streaming, let alone 4K. More 4K streaming interface products are needed, such as Nanotech’s $300 Nuvola NP-H1, which is about the size of an Apple TV box and ridiculously simple to connect and operate.

LG's got a 77-inch curved OLED TV that can also flex. (Why, I don't know...)

LG’s got a 77-inch curved OLED TV that can also flex. (Why, I don’t know…)

nVidia built an impressive 3D heads-up display into the dash of a BMW i3 electric car.

nVidia built an impressive 3D heads-up display into the dash of a BMW i3 electric car.

Oh, yeah. I should have mentioned organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays earlier. There were lots of OLED displays at CES, ranging from the cool, curved 6-inch OLED screen used in the new LG G-Flex curved smartphone to prototype 30-inch OLED TVs and workstation monitors in the TCL booth and on to the 55-inch, 65-iunch, and even 77-inch OLED TVs seen around the floor. (LG’s 77-inch offering is current the world’s largest OLED TV, and of course, it’s curved.)

OLEDs are tricky beasts to manufacture. Yields are usually on the low side (less than 25% per manufacturing run) and that number goes down as screen sizes increase, which explains the high prices for these TVs.

And there’s the unresolved issue of differential color aging, most notably in dark blue emitters. With current OLED science, you can expect dark blue emitters to reach half-brightness at about 5,000 hours of operation with a maximum brightness of 200 nits. Samsung addresses this quandary by employing two blue emitters for every red and green pixel on their OLED TVs, while LG has the more difficult task of managing blue aging in their white OLED emitters.

Several studies over the past three years consistently show people hanging on to their flat screen TVs for 5 to 7 years, which is likely to be a lot longer than 5,000 hours of operation. Will differential color aging rear its ugly head as early adopters shell out close to $10K for a 55-inch OLED TV? Bet on it.

Turns out, there’s another way to get wide color gamuts and saturated colors: Quantum dots. QDs, as we call them, are inorganic compounds that exhibit piezoelectric behavior when bombarded with photons. They emit stable, narrow-bandwidth colors with no drift, and can do so for long periods of time – long enough to work in a consumer television.

3M featured its quantum dot film (QDF) in several demos. An LCD TV equipped with it is at the top of the picture.

3M featured its quantum dot film (QDF) in several demos. An LCD TV equipped with it is at the top of the picture.

This prototype WiHD dongle turns any smartphone or tablet equipped with MHL or Micro HDMI interfaces into a 60 GHz wireless playback system.

This prototype WiHD dongle turns any smartphone or tablet equipped with MHL or Micro HDMI interfaces into a 60 GHz wireless playback system.

QDs are manufactured by numerous companies, most notably Nanosys and QD Vision in the United States.  The former company has partnered with 3M to manufacture an optical film that goes on the backside of LCD panels, while the latter offers Color IQ optical components that interface with the entire LED illumination system in edge-lit TVs.

Sony is already selling 55-inch and 65-inch 4K LCD TVs using the Color IQ technology, and I can tell you that the difference in color is remarkable. Red – perhaps the most difficult color to reproduce accurately in any flat-screen TV – really looks like red when viewed with a QD backlight. And it’s possible to show many subtle shades of red with this technology.

All you need is a QD film or emitter with arrays of red and green dots, plus a backlight made up of blue LEDs. The blue passes through, while the blue photons “tickle” the red and green dots, causing them to emit their respective colors. It’s also possible to build a direct-illumination display out of quantum dots that would rival OLED TVs.

How about 4K display interfaces? By now, you’ve probably heard that HDMI has “upgraded” to version 2.0 and can support a maximum data rate of 18 gigabits per second (GB/s).  Practically speaking; because of the way display data is transmitted, only 16 Gb/s of that is really available for a display connection. Still, that’s fast enough to show 4K content (3840×2160, or Quad HD) with a 60 Hz frame rate, using 8-bit color.

DisplayPort can now carry USB 3.0 on its physical layer. Here's an Accell DockPort breakout box with Mini DisplayPort and USB connections.

DisplayPort can now carry USB 3.0 on its physical layer. Here’s an Accell DockPort breakout box with Mini DisplayPort and USB connections.

Epson's Moverio glasses aren't as sexy as Google Glass - but then, they can do more things.

Epson’s Moverio glasses aren’t as sexy as Google Glass – but then, they can do more things.

Over at the DisplayPort booth, I heard stories of version 1.3 looming later this spring. DisplayPort 1.2, unlike HDMI, uses a packet structure to stream display, audio, and other data across four scalable lanes, and has a maximum rate of 21.6 Gb/s – much faster than HDMI. Applying the “20 percent” rule, that leaves about 17.3 Gb/s to actually carry 4K signals. And the extra bits over HDMI means that DP can transport 3840×2160 video with a frame rate of 60 Hz, but with 10-bit color.

Don’t underestimate the value of higher data rates: 4K could turn out to be a revolutionary shift in the way we watch TV, adding much wide color gamuts, higher frame rates, and high dynamic range (HDR) to the equation. HDMI clearly isn’t fast enough to play on that field; DP barely is. Both interfaces still have a long way to go.

So – why not make a wireless 4K connection? There were plenty of demos of wireless connectivity at the show, and I’m not just talking about Wi-Fi. Perhaps the most impressive was in the Silicon Image meeting room, all the way at the back of the lower South Hall, near the Arizona border.

SI, which bought out wireless manufacturer SiBEAM a few years ago, demonstrated super-compact 60 GHz wireless HDMI and MHL links using their UltraGig silicon. A variety of prototype cradles for phones and tablets were available for the demo: Simply plug in your handheld device and start streaming 1080p/60 video to a nearby 55-inch LCD TV screen.

Granted, the 60 GHz tech is a bit exotic. But it works quite well in small rooms and can take advantage of signal multipath “bounces” by using multiple, steerable antenna arrays built-in to each chip. And it can handle 4K, too – as long as the bit rate doesn’t exceed the HDMI 2.0 specification, the resolution, color bit depth, and frame rate are irrelevant.

This sort of product is a “holy grail” item for meeting rooms and education. Indeed; I field numerous questions every year during my InfoComm wireless AV classes along these lines: “Where can I buy a wireless tablet dongle?” Patience, my friends. Patience…

LG was one of many companies showing

LG was one of many companies showing “digital health” products, like these LifeBand monitors.

You can now buy the concave-surface LG G-Flex smartphone. But I don't think you'll see any of these in the near future...

You can now buy the concave-surface LG G-Flex smartphone. But you won’t see any of these in the near future…

The decline in TV shipments and sales seems to be offset by a boom in connected personal lifestyle and health gadgets, most notably wristbands that monitor your pulse and workouts. There were plenty of these trinkets at the show and an entire booth in the lower South Hall devoted to “digital health.”

Of course, the big name brands had these products – LG’s LifeBand was a good example. But so did the Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers. “Digital health” was like tablets a few years back – so many products were introduced at the show that they went from “wow!” to “ho-hum” in one day.

This boom in personal connectivity extends to appliances, beds (Sleep Number had a model that can elevate the head of the bed automatically with a voice command), cars (BMW’s i3 connected electric car was ubiquitous), and even your home. Combine it with short-range Bluetooth or ZigBee wireless connectivity and you can control and monitor just about anything on your smartphone and tablet.

Granted; there isn’t the money in these small products like there used to be in televisions. But consumers do want to connect, monitor, and control everything in their lives, and their refrigerators, cars, beds, televisions, percolators, and toasters will be able to comply. (And in 4K resolution, too!)

PointGrab can mute a TV simply by raising a finger to your lips!

PointGrab lets you mute a TV simply by raising a finger to your lips!

Panasonic downplayed TVs at CES, but had a functioning beauty salon in their booth (by appointment only..)

Panasonic downplayed TVs at CES, but had a functioning beauty salon in their booth (by appointment only..)

Obviously, I didn’t visit the subjects of gesture and voice control. There were several good demos at the show of each, and two of the leading companies I showcased last year – Omek and Prime Sense – have been subsequently acquired by Intel and Apple. Hillcrest Labs, PointGrab, and other had compelling demos of gesture control in Las Vegas – a subject for a later time.

Summing up, let’s first revisit my mantra: Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it. Televisions and optical disc media storage are clearly on the decline, while streaming, 4K, health monitoring, and wireless are hot. The television manufacturing business is slowly and inexorably moving to China as prices continue their free-fall.

The consumer is shifting his and her focus to all the devices in the home they use every days; not just television. Connectivity is everything, and the television is evolving from an entertainment device into a control center or “hub” of connectivity. The more those connections are made with wireless, the better – and that includes high-definition video from tablets and phones.

It’s going to be an interesting year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guess What, LG? Samsung’s Got a 55-inch Curved OLED TV, Too.

Yesterday at the cavernous Cipriani’s Restaurant in New York City, Samsung let us in on what had to be the worst-kept secret of 2013: They’re bringing a 55-inch curved OLED TV to market.

By “worst-kept,” I don’t mean to imply that any Samsung employees or PR agency personnel broke any embargo rules. No, they did a fine job keeping mum until the noontime press conference.

But Samsung had previously shown this product at CES. And so had LG (three of ‘em, to be exact). When LG announced earlier this month that they had begun shipments of their $15K 55-inch curved OLED, you just knew that Samsung would answer in short order with not just one, but multiple volleys.

And answer they did! The KN55S9C is Samsung’s official entry into the OLED television market. Like the LG product, it has a slight curved screen. Unlike LG’s version, it uses RGB OLED emitters (LG employs a white OLED emitter design with color filters). And unlike the LG product, Samsung’s OLED TV will sell for less than $10,000.

In fact, the SRP for the KN559SC is $8,999.99 (OK, let’s round it up to $9,000), which should result in a price drop from the folks in Englewood Cliffs pretty quickly. Analysts have wondered just where the market for OLED TVs would start, and $10K is quite a bit below where I targeted.

 

Samsung sure knows how to stage a new product launch.

Samsung sure knows how to stage a new product launch.

Remember the Pioneer KURO plasma TVs? These look even better.

Remember the Pioneer KURO plasma TVs? The KN55S9Cs look even better than those. And they’re brighter, too.

One reason may be that Samsung is getting better-than-expected yields on their large OLED panels. (The company confirmed that, but would not be specific about actual yields.) I’ve heard that LG Display’s yields range anywhere from 10% to 30%, but would think the lower number is more realistic. So Samsung may be seeing yields in the range of 20% or so.

The pixel structure in the KN559SC is intriguing. There are actually two dark blue pixels for every single red and green pixel. (See photo.) And Samsung claims to have some sort of brightness compensation circuit to offset differential aging of the dark blue pixels. Well, running two of them at half-brightness would certainly extend their half-brightness lifetime. (The blue color materials are licensed from Universal Display Corporation in Ewing, NJ.)

This micro view of the KN55S9C shows the red, green, and blue pixel array. Notice that the blue pixels are twice the size of the red and green pixels.

This micro view of the KN55S9C shows the red, green, and blue pixel array. Notice that the blue pixels are larger than the red and green pixels.

One cool feature that Samsung showed was MultiView. OLEDs, being emissive devices like plasma display panels, have very fast on/off cycling speeds. So switching at high frame rates like 120 and 240 Hz is a walk in the park for them.

Samsung uses this characteristic to show two different video programs simultaneously, using 3D active shutter glasses to open on either the even or odd-numbered video frames (not fields). With MultiView, one person could be watching a basketball game while the other is enjoying a soap opera. Texas Instruments also showed this trick over a decade ago at CES and CEDIA Expo, using Samsung DLP rear-projection TVs.

Samsung's MultiView technology lets two viewers watch two different TV programs at the same time (even 3D) while wearing active shutter glasses.

Samsung’s MultiView technology lets two viewers watch two different TV programs at the same time (even 3D) while wearing active shutter glasses.

 

It would take a lot of upstage an 85-inch 4K TV...and apparently, a 55-inch curved OLED TV is

It would take a lot to upstage an 85-inch 4K TV…and apparently, a 55-inch curved OLED TV is “a lot.”

Almost overlooked at the event were Samsung’s UHD TVs. In addition to 55-inch and 65-inch models, the new 85-incher took a bow (I saw it previously at NAB and CES). These sets have spectacular image quality, but you’ll pay about $1K per diagonal inch for the smaller sets and a cool $40K for the 85-inch version. Look for major adjustments on those prices as the Chinese TV manufacturers start pushing more 4K product into the US market.

All of these TVs come with Samsung’s Smart TV Smart Hub feature, and each is future-proofed with the Evolution Kit interface for OS and other updates. One trend we’re starting to see is exterior frames with suspended TV screens inside them, as the 85-inch and 110-inch LCD sets from CES were shown. Now, the KN559SC borrows from this styling with a glossy black frame surrounding the TV, giving the impression that it floats. Pretty cool.

Will we see comparable products from Sony and Panasonic? Both companies have shown 56-inch 4K OLED TVs, but these products aren’t anywhere near ready for prime time. And Sony’s introduction of quantum dot backlights on their Triluminous LCD TVs took color reproduction to a new level, probably extending the dominance of LCD technology for a few more years.

Keep your eye on both the LG and Samsung TV products to see if (a) market demand is there, even at these higher prices, (b) differential aging of the blue pixels manifests as a problem or not, and (c) 4K versions of these products are announced later his year, or at the 2014 CES. That will tell you how committed both companies are to the technology…

Panasonic Delivers Big OLED Surprise at CES

The OLED-TV story was in a rut for months: Samsung and LG had beautiful 55-inch prototypes, but repeatedly missed their promised product introduction dates. But things are changing.

The big CES surprise came from Panasonic, which showed a very impressive technology demonstration of the “World’s Largest 4K OLED.” At 56 inches, it does beat LG and Samsung by one inch, but what is more important is that it’s 4K. And what is considerably more important than that is that the panel was “created by printing technology.”

panasonic huge

Panasonic’s big CES surprise was this 56-inch 4Kx2K OLED-TV with front plane made with printing technology. (Photo: Ken Werner)

It is widely agreed that if large-screen OLED-TV is to become cost-competitive with LCD, it will do so through solution processing, which almost certainly means some kind of printing, and this is the first large, solution-processed panel to appear in public. Part of the surprise is that although Panasonic has said in the recent past that it was interested in OLED development, there has been no public hint that the company was working on solution processing or that they had come this far so fast. It is known that Samsung has been working with DaiNippon Screen (DNS) and DuPont Displays on the nozzle printing technology developed by those companies, and that Samsung bought a development Gen 5 nozzle printer from DNS, so it might have been assumed that Samsung would be first to demonstrate a solution-processed OLED-TV. Not so, and that added even more snap to Panasonic’s surprise.

The printed OLED hadn’t been mentioned at Panasonic’s press event, and nobody in the Panasonic booth knew much about it, saying they had not received advanced information about the display and really don’t know it was coming until they opened the crate. So they didn’t know and I don’t know if the printing is by nozzle, ink-jet, offset, or some other technique. Still this is a major step in OLED-TV development, and we will be digging for additional information.

samsung

Samsung show this curved OLED-TV at CES. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Another surprise, although not nearly as significant as Panasonic’s, was the exhibition of curved OLED-TVs by both Samsung and LG. Both claimed their curved OLED to be the “world’s first,” and Samsung personnel will clearly shocked to learn from my colleague Pete Putman that LG also had the curved panels. The Samsung folks were even more chagrinned to find that LG had three of the curved panels in its booth while Samsung had only one.

lg-oled-tv

LG showed three curved OLED-TVs, with 3D. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Should anybody care about curved OLED-TVs? I doubt it. You can make a case that a viewer whose eyeballs are near the center of the screen’s curvature will have a more constant viewing angle to all portions of the screen, and will therefore see the image across the entire screen with less geometrical distortion and with more consistent contrast and color. But viewing angle is not a problem with OLED in any case, and who complains about geometric distortion on any kind of flat-panel display? In addition, if you don’t watch TV alone, how many eyeballs can be near the center of curvature? I suggest that this is another example of technological bravura for its own sake, but for both Samsung and LG it was an attention-getter.

Of more practical interest was LG’s announcement that its 55-inch OLED-TV – the flat one – was available for purchase in Korea, and would be available in the U.S. in March. This is, by my count, the fourth release date for the 55-inch announced by LG. If they don’t make this one, either, we will know that there is serious trouble in River City.

flat 55 inch tv

LG has scheduled U.S. commercial introduction of its flat 55-inch OLED-TVs for March, after missing its last three scheduled dates. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

Samsung 2012 Spring Showcase – Pete Putman

Tempus fugit! The Time Warner Center in New York City will soon shed that moniker, as TW sells off its former ‘prime’ real estate holdings in the city to save money.

 

It should be no surprise then that the Samsung Experience pavilion on the 3rd floor is also history. This electronic ‘toy store’ once showcased the latest in Samsung TVs, phones, Blu-ray players, tablets, and even appliances, and it also served as the venue for Samsung’s annual spring line shows.

 

No more. The 2012 spring show took place March 6 at the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street, the site of the rapidly-growing CEA Summer Line Shows. And it was a relatively sedate affair, choosing to focus on ‘connectivity’ – connected Smart TVs, connected digital cameras and tablets, and connected humans. That is, humans using more intuitive methods to ‘connect’ to their TVs and control them.

Samsung VP Joe Stinziano touts the new Smart Evolution upgrade module.

 

The big news for 2012 is the ES-line of LED (LCD) TVs, which take full advantage of voice and gesture recognition for control. The TV comes with a built-in camera and takes a picture of each user, which is then used to store your preferences. The camera can even pick you out of a crowd.

 

Voice controls include basic volume up/down and channel up/down operation, or direct channel numbers. You can also change inputs and launch a Web browser, at which point the gesture control takes over. This was demonstrated at CES to a long line of attendees and will probably be a popular item for ‘geeks.’ (I’m not sure yet if I want my TV to watch me while I’m watching it!)

 

Voice and gesture control will be standard on the ES7500 46-inch, 50-inch, and 55-inch LED TVs, ES8000 46, 55, 60, and 65-inch LED TVs, and 51, 60, and 65-inch ES8000 plasma TVs. Prices start at about $2,200 for the line, and all models are shipping now.

 

One big question that keeps coming up as NeTVs evolve into full-blown Web browsers with powerful CPUs is this: Is there any way to make them future-proof? After all, Apple and Microsoft update their operating systems on a frequent basis, so why should anyone worry about their TV becoming obsolete?

And here's what the Smart Evolution module looks like in action.

 

This problem is solved nicely (from Samsung’s perspective) with Smart Evolution, which is basically a chassis that mounts on the back of the TV and contains all the latest firmware and hardware updates. Readers who’ve been following the HDTV market for the last decade may recall that Mitsubishi came out with a similar product over 10 years ago – an expansion module they called “The Promise” that fit into their line of rear-projection TVs. (And how well did THAT idea work out?)

 

In addition to built-in cameras and noise-canceling microphones for using Skype and voice/gesture control, Samsung also unveiled a new, super-simple remote control that is remarkably free of buttons. It’s actually a touch pad, with volume and channel buttons mounted on either side. It does double duty as a microphone for voice commands, and also ships with the ES7500, ES8000 LED, and ES8000 plasma TVs.

 

You are probably not surprised that Samsung also unveiled a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard to work with the same ES line of TVs. That’s because the keyboards on most remotes are too small for Western fingers (certainly for me!) and you may be on a Web page where you need to enter strings of text.

Now, be nice and share with your brothers and sisters!

 

Hold on there, pardner! Have we gone back in time to the days of Web TV? Historically, TV viewers have clearly shown their disdain for using a keyboard to watch television, and there’s no reason to expect that will change any time soon. Fortunately, the new Smart Touch Remote can also activate an on-screen keyboard which can then be ‘swiped’ to enter text or numbers for Web pages.

 

Other enhancements to the TV line include Micro Dimming to achieve more precise local area dimming on LED TVs and improve contrast uniformity, and the availability of Real Black Filter across all of the plasma TVs in the 2012 line.  The purpose is to minimize reflections and light scattering that lowers contrast and elevates black levels – Panasonic uses a similar technique on its plasma TVs.

 

AllShare is a new concept from Samsung. According to the press release, All Share lets viewers share content to a variety of connected devices, such as tablets, laptops, and smart phones. The content is stored on 5 GB of ‘cloud’ server space. In addition, any Web site that’s being browsed on a mobile device can be re-directed and launched from a compatible Samsung Smart TV.

 

At least one reporter asked if AllShare competes with Ultraviolet, the movie industry’s ‘cloud’ system for cross-platform viewing of content. Actually, all Ultraviolet does is to store keys on its ‘cloud’ servers, and those keys are then used to unlock and watch copies of movies previously purchased on a wide range of platforms. In contrast, AllShare stores the content, not keys.

Smart Hub is still here. In fact, everything about Samsung TVs is 'smart' these days.

 

To keep up with all of this content and GUI juggling, the ES7000, ES7500, and ES8000 TVs now have dual-core processors for high processing speeds. OK, computer! (Sorry, Radiohead fans…)

 

In the Blu-Ray department, there are five new models ranging from the entry-level BD-ES300 ($99.99) to the loaded-for-bear BD-E6500 ($229.99). Depending on the model, you’ll have built-in WiFi, an internal Web browser, access to All Share, Smart Hub, and Disc to Digital, a new service that lets you ‘rip’ a DVD or Blu-ray file to a digital file accessible to connected (mobile) devices. (Hmmm, sounds a lot like Ultraviolet to me!)

 

It’s interesting to stop and consider that just five years ago, a ‘bare bones’ Blu-ray player would set you back nearly $1200, with some models approaching two grand. Now, you can have every option you want or need – including Internet connectivity – for less than $200 after online retailers slash their advertised pricing.

Samsung's 2012 plasma TVs may have the thinnest bezels ever.

 

And what about 3D? There was almost no discussion of it this year, quite a change from the hullaballo of 2010. 3D is largely a standard feature now in higher-priced TVs (like that ES7000-7500-8000 lineup again) because consumers just haven’t bitten on the concept.

 

One thing Samsung has done for 2012 is to cut the price of replacement active 3D glasses to (ready for this?) $20 a pair; a price that should really tick off early 3D adopters who had to fork over $100 or more to replace their active glasses each time Junior inadvertently sat on and broke them. The lower price point isn’t likely to stimulate 3D TV sales – nothing really has, not even passive or autostereo – but it’s still a nice gesture to the small group who grooves on the third dimension.

 

And now for the 800-pound gorilla in the room: No, Samsung did NOT show an OLED TV in New York. BUT – there apparently will be an OLED TV in the line, most likely using the 55-inch cut. And of course, it will be loaded to the top with all of the Samsung add-ons (Smart Hub, AllShare, voice/gesture control, etc.) We’ll probably see it late in the year.

 

My (educated) guess is that the pricing will be about $8K – $10K, or where LG has hinted its 55-inch product will be tagged when it gets to market sometime late summer or early fall. Given Samsung’s desire to sell off its money-losing LCD fab business and place more emphasis on OLED technology through its Samsung Mobile Displays division, it might be the perfect time to launch OLEDs. (Or maybe not, if yields aren’t high enough…)

 

Trivia time: Remember when a 42-inch plasma cost $10,000? That was over ten years ago, and you can now buy Samsung’s 43-inch entry-level 720p PN43E450 for less than $550.

 

Amazing…